In Rhythmic designs, Gavin Harrison puts at everyone’s disposal the practical results of years of researching on rhythmic manipulation and the different tools that we can use when thinking of a drum part in any song. As a matter of fact, it’s nothing more than a book with the detailed transcription of his two first albums with O5Ric plus a DVD with one lesson for each song on how to play the most difficult parts and the background for the rhythms and sections. That is to say, tons of content for us to study, but it will give us a unique set of tools to develop our own creativity.
The collaboration between Gavin Harrison and composer, singer and multiinstrumentist O5Ric (Ric Byer) is going really well. The two first albums Drop and Circles had been highly acclaimed and led them to many live performances for a little but enthusiastic audience. These days they are on tour as well, promoting their new album The man who sold himself. Probably Gavin Harrison needed a good songwritter to help him with his rhythmic ideas. He had published two books and two DVD’s (Rhythmic visions and Rhythmic horizons) about his research on techniques to manipulate rhythms and metrics, and several creative tools such as displacements, substitutions or modulations. Putting all this into musical practice is complicated, but the hardest part is to make it affordable, not too difficult or boring.
However, there they are with a third record and touring. The interesting thing about these three albums is the variety and freshness of their rhythmic ideas. Instead of a vehicle for self-indulgence, they are a smooth and sometimes angular way of rhythmic expression. One can almost imagine Harrison sending Ric some pattern by e-mail and getting a guitar riff or a bass line in response, and then trying to make everything fit together. They have also been helped by some great musicians, such as Robert Fripp, Gary Sanctuary and Dave Stewart.
In 2010, drummer and Modern Drummer Magazine contributing writter Terry Branam transcribed some songs from Drop and sent them to Gavin Harrison through the forum in Drummerworld. Being impressed by the accuracy of the notation, Harrison sent him a previous copy of the imminent album Circles for Branam to transcribe the songs. The result of this collaboration is this book Rhythmic designs, which comes with a new DVD recorded by Harrison. This is a really complete exercise that culminates his educational work. This Rhythmic designs allows us to study Harrison’s innovative concepts and ideas in a real musical context, and on top of that we can have access to lessons on the most complex or obscure parts in any song.
The DVD is fantastic. With his good down-to-earth manners, Gavin discusses every song taking his time to explain the most dificult parts, breaking them to the simplest for us to understand them, and then adding elements one by one, giving sense to the process. It’s nice to watch him paying homage to some drummers or even his own teachers, and explaining how he stole this or that from others. It’s also amazing how simple can be the background of some of the patterns and how they take shape to become something that seems more difficult that it really is. It’s also funny when he explains that sometimes he or Ric have to “adapt” some parts to the ones that the other has written, as sometimes a lyric or a melody doesn’t fit in some metric.
Throughout the Rhythmic designs DVD, Harrison discusses some of his tricks and personal techniques, such as the left hand movement towards the hi-hat while remaining under the right hand, or some of his more personal fills based on some stickings that have become one of his trademarks, or even the wide range of sounds that we can obtain from the same surface depending on how we hit it. His explanations are clear, specially the ones that refer to really technical stuff, for example when some part is in some time signature but he is thinking in another different measure when playing it. Another funny example is the “illegal triplet” idea, or the series of triplets that give the illusion that he is accelerating… Once again, rhythmic manipulation coming at you…
The DVD disc is double-sided and lasts for more than two and a half hours. On one side, we have all the comments for the songs in Drop and a special chapter where Gavin Harrison discusses the most basic instruments of a drumset: the snare drum, the bass drum, the hi-hat and the ride cymbal. Everything is very interesting and he covers many topics such as the election of his instruments for every song, tuning methods, micking, personal tricks and techniques, etc. On the other side of the DVD, we find all the songs from Circles and a couple more extras. There is a comment on some favourite rudiments such as the left-hand flam triplet, the “blushda” made popular by Tony Williams and the “herta” by Billy Cobham that Carter Beauford uses a lot. The best part is when Harrison tries to give us a lot of possibilities, shapes and applications for these great ideas, just like Todd Sucherman did on his first DVD. Gavin also talks about tom tuning and how to avoid the sympathetic resonance between the rack toms and the snare drum. Also in this B-side of the disc, we have a folder with some selected songs in a “play along” version, with and without the click, and a bonus video track with Gavin playing 19 days in the 2008 Modern Drummer Festival.
As with the other books and DVD’s from Gavin Harrison, Rhythmic designs is not for everyone. Begginers will find some concepts hard to understand. But on a second thought, here they will have two important advantages to them: the topics are discussed from something as practical as a song published in an actual album, and everything can be applied in many different ways. So it may be a very good purchase. Not a DVD to start playing drums, but a good guide to understand some complexities and many technical aspects that we may not be able to find elsewhere.
This post is also available in Versión en Español.